New Report Shows Inequity in Women's Earnings Continues with Social Security

Article excerpt

The same women who fought hardest to enter the job market during the women's rights movement may now face a retirement that a new report calls "the culmination of an entire career- an entire lifetime- of pay and income inequality."

Breaking the Social Security Glass Ceiling: A Proposal to Modernize Women's Benefits, authored by Carroll Estes, a former ASA president and the current Board of Directors Chair for the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare (NCPSSM); Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation; and Heidi Hartman, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, was unveiled May 11 at a televised congressional briefing. The report is intended to publicly highlight the financial struggles of older women, and serve as a launching pad for legislative reform.

A Call for Modernization

"This report is an urgent call for our retirement system to catch up with changing needs of women and families," said Estes. "It offers a modernization plan for Social Security that would break the glass ceiling, and improve the adequacy of Social Security in light of the economic plight of women across America."

There's a paradox in women's bigger role in the workplace still leaving them with an inability to accumulate savings when they take a break for unpaid caregiving, Estes said. The report recommends credits for caregivers, whether they're caring for children or elderly parents.

The report also addresses the existing inequity in Social Security survivor benefits, recommending they be increased to 75 percent of a couple's combined benefits, unlike in the current system, where one gives up spousal benefits upon the death of a spouse. And there's a proposed minimum monthly benefit of $1,400 for low-wage workers, compared with the current monthly average of $700 for those who've spent their lives working in minimum wage jobs.

Beyond these changes, the report recommends that Social Security restore student benefits for children up to age 22, equalize rules for disabled widows and provide Social Security benefits to domestic partners and members of same sex marriages, including children from such relationships.

Inequalities Across Races

When retired, men take in an average yearly Social Security benefit of $15,620; women reap $12,155. But the most striking inequalities mentioned in the report were in certain racial groups. …